The stale first-date question of "What's your sign?" seems to be getting increasingly complicated. These days, it's not enough just to know your zodiac sign — people want to dive head first into someone's entire birth chart to get a better sense of who they are, including their sun, moon, and rising signs. We get it: the more you know about a potential partner, the easier it is to determine how compatible you are. But it can get confusing, especially if you don't even know the difference between a sun sign and a moon sign, let alone a rising sign.
If you're a beginner astrologer (or even if you've heard all this before and you just want a refresher), don't worry. POPSUGAR spoke with Narayana Montúfar, editor and senior astrologer of Astrology.com, and Laura Brown, astrologer and founder of Intuitive Alchemy, to get the details on those three most relevant signs in your chart, sometimes called your "big three": your sun, moon, and rising signs. Turns out, there's an easy rule of thumb that can help you keep these signs straight in your head. When you meet someone new, you'll likely notice their signs in the same order every time: rising sign first (the mask), sun sign next (the self), and moon sign last (the heart). Let's get into what each one actually means and how you can tell the difference.
The Difference Between Sun, Moon, Rising Signs
We'll get into details in a moment, but first let's establish what exactly determines your sun, moon, and rising signs.
- Sun sign: Your sun sign is the zodiac sign you likely already know. It is determined by your birth date and plays a role in the core aspects of your personality. Sun signs are determined by the sign (aka constellation) the sun is passing through on your birthday, based on the position of the constellations as ancient astrologers saw them.
- Moon sign: Your moon sign refers to the position of the moon at the exact moment you were born — specifically, which of the 12 zodiac signs the moon was in. Your moon sign plays into the deep inner aspects of yourself, like your emotions and how you feel and act when no one else is around.
- Rising sign: Your rising sign, also known as your ascendant, is determined by the sign that was rising on the eastern horizon at the exact moment (date, time, hour, minute) you were born. Your rising sign indicates the version of yourself that you present to the world — your outer identity or mask.
Of course, there's more to your sun, moon, and rising signs than their definitions. Here's a deeper dive into each one and some expert tips on how to read these three important signs together.
What Is Your Rising Sign?
Your rising sign is like your mask. Think of it this way: "On a first date, it's really your rising signs that are meeting for dinner," Brown explained. So, say you meet at a dimly lit, romantic spot. Your Hinge date walks in, and — hold on — you hate the fact that they wore a graphic tee to a wine bar?! And while you're sitting there contemplating why you even date at all, those first impressions — signified by their rising sign — could render some deal-breaking decisions. The saying about not judging a book by its cover should really be "Don't judge a person by their rising sign."
Here are a few things to know about your rising sign:
- Your rising sign is the face you wear in public. It determines "how others see us and the first impression we give," according to Montúfar.
- Your rising sign also represents your physical body, including "the energy that drives it," Brown says. She adds that it's "the version of ourselves that we put on display."
Like we said earlier, this sign is dependent solely on birth time, and it changes every two hours. This means someone born at 5:30 a.m. would have a different rising sign than someone born on the same day at 7:30 a.m. The rising sign is always changing because Earth is continually rotating around its axis. With 12 zodiac signs in the 24-hour period that it takes Earth to make one full rotation, that gives each zodiac sign two hours on the eastern horizon.
What Is Your Sun Sign?
Your sun sign is your true self, digging into your basic identity and surface-level characteristics. "Our sun sign is a lot like our first name: it's what people are most familiar with," Brown says. "It's our core, our innermost identity, and the space that we find the greatest ease and authenticity in leaning into."
Your sun sign, sometimes called your "star sign," is the zodiac sign you're most likely to know. Your sun sign is more or less determined by your birth date. Each span is around four weeks long, which explains why it may be common for people with close birthdays to have similar personalities. (For instance, once you've gotten over your Hinge date's graphic tee, after you start talking, you might find you are both Leos and have more in common than you thought!)
What Is Your Moon Sign?
Your moon sign is your heart — the deepest part of yourself. "If the sun represents our conscious mind, the moon represents our subconscious mind," Montúfar says. Your moon sign is determined by birth place and time and changes signs every two-and-a-half days.
What are some things to know about your moon sign?
- This sign affects all the feelings. According to Montúfar, our moon establishes "our emotional needs, the way we desire to feel nurtured, and how we behave behind closed doors."
- Going back to our first-date scenario, this sign likely wouldn't even present itself when you first meet. It might take months (or years!) of getting to know someone for the moon to finally appear.
- On a more granular scale, this sign also suggests "how we relate to all nontangible things like dreams, imagination, intuition, and memory," Montúfar says.
How to Read Sun, Moon, and Rising Signs Together
In order to understand a person as a whole, getting to know their sun, moon, and rising signs is crucial. And that's because there are so many facets to consider before you get the full picture. For example, two people with compatible sun signs aren't always guaranteed to be best friends, like you'd think. Brown gives an example: a fiery Aries and an independent Sagittarius would typically get along like PB&J; however, if either has a rising Leo, the competitive attitude of this sign can create a power struggle between the two. Likewise, if two people have "incompatible" zodiac signs, it doesn't necessarily spell doom for a potential relationship if their rising or moon signs are more compatible.
In essence, sun, moon, and rising signs — the first signs any astrologer notices — help us understand the many variables that every human being encompasses: our basic self, our masked self, and our deep self. These important signs can help guide you through your relationships and your own understanding of yourself, too. (PS: If you're wondering what your moon and rising signs are, you can enter your birth info into a reputable astrology app or website to find out.)
— Additional reporting by Maggie Ryan